Let’s say you are a parent and you are buying a brand of baby food believing it is nutritious and healthy for your baby.
Then you learn the baby food is poisoning your baby – and the manufacturer is aware of the harm. What would you think? Where would you go?
In an alarming interview, Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, suggested the company might be harming children’s brains.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker, no longer with Facebook, said Wednesday in an interview with the Axios website while in Philadelphia for an Axios event at the National Constitution Center.
Let that sink in.
Unlike cigarette executives hauled before Congress some years back who denied their product was addictive, Parker, a 38-year-old billionaire, practically bragged that Facebook is addictive, saying it was designed to be. (Parker also made a passing reference to himself as an “immortal overlord.”)
This wasn’t the first time a Silicon Valley insider blew the whistle on the dangers about mass mental manipulation in the digital age, Ad Age reported.
We’ve been hearing that we are being psychologically manipulated, but we’re not paying attention.
Maybe we should be.
When Facebook – the world’s largest social-media platform – got started, Parker said he got pushback from people not on social media who valued human interaction. Parker glibly predicted they would get pulled in eventually.
“I don’t know if I understood the consequences of what I was saying,” Parker said, because when a network grows to a billion or two billion people, it changes users’ relationships with society and with one another.
Right from the jump, Facebook’s goal was to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible,” said Parker.
How to do that? The same way you train a dog – with rewards.
“That means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while,” in the form of likes or comments or photos, said Parker. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content.”
This manipulation is pernicious. As a daily Facebook user, I am now asking myself why I am there. Is it to earn brownie points with the bosses who believe an active Facebook account drags more eyeballs to Philly.com? Or am I there because I like to persuade and argue? Or am I there because I have been turned into an addict?
The design of Facebook is “exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you are exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” said Parker.
“The inventors, creators – it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people – understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
It’s also possible Parker is just blowing smoke in a bid for attention.
If Facebook (and the other platforms) are manipulating us, shouldn’t we know that? If so, should we permit it to continue?
Going back to my opening premise, would you continue feeding your baby food you know is harmful?